Pro Bono, Public Interest

Saving Babies or Bucks? A New Lawyer’s Dilemma

Mother Teresa.jpgA recent bar passer sent this query into Freakonomics:

I recently passed the bar and am currently applying for jobs. My main concern is bringing out the most charitable result. Should I work in the nonprofit section where my services are passed directly along to the most needy, or should I get the high-paying firm job and donate the difference in my salary to charity?

A certain Harvard Law School grad might say, “Do the right thing at every moment” — and avoid the Big Bad Law Firm. But Freakonomics blogger Stephen Dubner seems more skeptical of public interest work:

I am not so convinced that working for a nonprofit means that one’s “services are passed directly along to the most needy.” Here’s one reason why.

One Freakonomics commenter’s response to the question of “public interest v. Biglaw”: neither.

If you want to make the most “charitable result”, you’re too late. Lawyers rarely add any value to the economy (after all, this IS an economics blog). Lawyers don’t make anything but they consume large amounts of capital, both human and financial. Had you wanted to be a net contributor to society, an MBA or engineering degree or medical degree or some such would have been the way to go or even just start a small business. This would allow you to actually produce something of value. A law degree only allows you to add friction to the economy….

Scrap the law degree, start a company, get rich, buy a big house and a big boat, give generously when you can and do what Buffett and Gates are doing, give it all away when you’re finished. Nothing wrong with that at all. That would be a life well lived.

ATL readers, what do you advise?
Our Daily Bleg: How Can You Maximize Your Charity? [Freakonomics / NYT]
Earlier: Working in Biglaw = Killing Babies?

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